Plant Species of the Bright Angel Trail: snowberry, Symphoricarpos oreophilus

See Plant Guide to Bright Angel Trail for an introduction to this page.


Note added 18 August 2016:

I found plants in flower on 3 September 2013. The flowers definitively ruled out S. longiflorus.

Using the key in Kearney and Peebles, the glabrous twigs key them to either S. parishii (= S. rotundifolius var. parishii) or S. oreophilus.

However, the plants do not fit either of those species perfectly. The length of the flowers, 10-12 mm, fits only S. oreophilus. The hairiness of the leaves fits only S. parishii.

The inside of the corolla tube was quite pilose for the single flower whose inside tube I photographed, which fits the pilose inner tube of S. parishii, and not the sparsely pilose to nearly glabrous inner tube of S. oreophilus. However, a flower from another plant I photographed had an inner corolla tube with fewer or no pilose hairs in its upper section, which unfortunately was the only section of the corolla tube seen in my photograph.

The plants with flowers were low and spreading, fitting S. oreophilus. However, I consider the habit of any Symphoricarpos plant to be an unreliable indication of the species, since it appears to be mostly environmentally determined.

The disagreement in the key characteristics makes it very difficult to confidently call these plants as either species.

In fact, seven out of nine botanists / floras now consider these to be the same species; see the discussion in the Southwestern Colorado Wildflowers page on Symphoricarpos. Unfortunately, these seven botanists / floras disagree on what name to use for the merged species!

I have observed Symphoricarpos in southern California to be a "ridiculously-variable" species in its leaf shape and overall plant appearance, thus it wouldn't surprise me if these two species are just limiting forms with complete intergradation between them. As the Flora of Utah puts it, This common and widespread snowberry species is recognized as having three confluent and insubstantial varieties.

The latest monograph on Symphoricarpos was by Jones in 1940 (J. Arnold Arbor. 21:201-252). Jones wrote:

S. parishii sometimes has been confused with S. oreophilus, but that species is entirely different in its longer-tubular-funnelform corollas, and in its glabrous twigs and leaves.

Clearly, S. oreophilus cannot be entirely different if our specimens have hairy leaves. Also, oddly, Jones contradicts himself about the difference in the hairiness of the twigs, since he keys both species under Young twigs completely glabrous.

The rest of this page has not yet been modified from the 2007 text.

Identification status: 95% confidence, primarily on the following:

However, it is simply not possible to reliably identify most snowberry species without flowers, so the determination will remain tentative until flowers are observed.

Three Symphoricarpos species are known to be present in this area. From a SEINet search, there are 7 vouchers of S. oreophilus from the Coconino County portion of the Grand Canyon; the nearest is from the Grandview area at 7400 feet. There are 8 vouchers of S. longiflorus from the Grand Canyon; the nearest is from the Grandview Trail at 6190 feet. There are 10 vouchers of S. rotundifolius from the Grand Canyon; the nearest is from the 7 miles west of El Tovar at 6500 feet. Note that there may be additional vouchers at other herbaria not available through SEINet.

First occurrence on Bright Angel Trail: mile 0.00, elevation 6845 feet (2086 m).

Number of plants along Trail: This is an extremely common species, found all along the trail. At least 99 plants were found in at least 9 different locations in September 2007.


From 5 September 2007, mile 0.01 (not the first specimen on the trail):

It is a bit difficult to clearly see the opposite leaves in the above pictures. The clearest set of opposite leaves is at middle right in the picture directly above. Only one pair of leaves is seen; the twins of the other leaves have dropped off already. One can also see the scar opposite the branch that gives rise to the twig with the single pair of opposite leaves still present.


See Resources for Grand Canyon Flora for further information on most of these references. Entries in the second column are either the name used in that source or a page reference. The name is linked to online pages when available. If a given reference does not contain this taxon, the entry is either left blank or contains a hyphen.

Scientific NameSymphoricarpos oreophilus
1987 Grand Canyon Flora NameSymphoricarpos oreophilus
1987 Grand Canyon Flora page26
SEINet Image PageSymphoricarpos oreophilus
USDA PlantsSymphoricarpos oreophilus
Flora of North America
Jepson Manual for California treatment-
Jepson Manual illustration page
Kearney and Peebles NameSymphoricarpos oreophilus
Kearney and Peebles Page #815
Vascular Plants of AZ name
Vascular Plants of AZ volume: page
Huisinga et al 2006 name-
Huisinga et al 2006 page numbers-
Epple NameSymphoricarpos oreophilus
Epple description page #249
Epple pix #614
McDougall 1964 nameSymphoricarpos oreophilus
McDougall 1964 page #209
Brian 2000 Name
Phillips 1979 name-
Phillips 1979 page #-
Stockert 1967 name-
Stockert 1967 page #-

The phrase ridiculously-variable comes originally from Keir Morse.

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Copyright © 2007-2016 by Tom Chester.
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Last Update: 18 August 2016